Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House in support of Bill S-15, Expansion and Conservation of Canada’s National Parks Act, at second reading.
I should first note that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Lambert.
Among other things, Bill S-15 proposes to make Sable Island, a small island 175 km off the south-east coast of Nova Scotia, Canada’s 43rd national park.
It is a very interesting bill that has support from regional and national environmental groups. It is the result of negotiations between the federal government and the provincial NDP government. Clearly, with support from the community and from government, we already have an opportunity to take the longer view, and perhaps support it.
A few months ago, on one of those rare evenings of rest I was able to get, I happened upon an article about Sable Island. I was truly fascinated by what I was able to learn, particularly about the unique ecosystem of this thin sand dune off the coast of Nova Scotia. I found the island absolutely magnificent. It is a most impressive place, with over 300 unique species of birds, insects and butterflies, and a herd of the wild horses that are the cause of its fame.
The flora of Sable Island are just as varied, and include a number of plants rarely found elsewhere on our planet. Uninhabited, except for a handful of researchers, this island continues to stir the imagination of Canadians today, and must be protected, both because of its unique and important ecosystem, and its historical value. The island is very fragile, and exposed to the winds of the Atlantic Ocean. In an intensified way, it is subject to the weather conditions of the environment in which it is located.
In designating Sable Island as a national park, this government has the responsibility of granting it the enhanced environmental protection measures that should accompany its designation as a national park.
Although Bill S-15 seems to be an initial step in the right direction, there are still a number of concerns about its wording.
First, the bill prohibits drilling within one nautical mile of the island, or on its surface, but still allows drilling underneath it. This is a first for a national park in Canada, but it is not one to be proud of. In my view, a very dangerous precedent is being created for future national parks that may be created over the years in Canada. I would not like to see similar rights granted to some companies that own drilling rights, such as ExxonMobil, which still has the right to drill close to Sable Island. I believe such an opening is very dangerous, and it should be studied in detail in committee.
The current wording of Bill S-15 also allows various types of low-impact exploration on the surface of the Island, but without a clear definition of what that expression means. I have problems with this, because it is difficult to imagine all the different kinds of exploration that might be carried out on Sable Island, which is already very fragile.
My colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine has raised some concerns about the effects of some kinds of exploration, which are considered to be low-impact but which can have very harmful effects on marine mammals in the vicinity of such tests.
For these reasons, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has a lot of work to do before we can fully support the bill as currently drafted. It has some fairly serious shortcomings, and we must ensure that the text that emerges from the committee's proceedings guarantees genuine protection for Sable Island's invaluable habitats and ecosystems.
Parks Canada's mandate is to protect the natural and cultural heritage of our national parks. The final text of Bill S-15 must truly reflect that mandate and implement practical measures to ensure that it is carried out.
I come from the riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, where nature is a very important part of people's everyday lives and environmental protection issues are among their greatest concerns. They regularly enjoy the outdoors, hunting and fishing, but they also want to protect our natural resources.
Last Saturday, I attended the Saint-Basile-de-Portneuf fishing festival, during which I even had a chance to go and stock the river with trout.
This is one of the many actions the municipality takes every year to ensure that fishers retain their access to the river, which is very close to the village, and are able to continue fishing without depleting all the fish stocks in the river. These efforts show how important nature is to the people of my riding.
Although there is no federal national park in my riding, there is a provincial park, the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier. There is also the Portneuf wildlife reserve, which I highly recommend to everyone as a summer vacation destination. People will not be disappointed by it.
The Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier is less than 30 minutes north of Quebec City. The Government of Quebec created the 670-km² park in 1981 to protect a representative sample of the natural region of the Laurentian mountains. Some of you may have had the opportunity to travel across part of the park if you have ever driven from Quebec City to Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean or other neighbouring areas. That route features a very good sample of the region's natural assets. In addition to a spectacular glacier valley, the park is also crossed by a salmon river, the Rivière à saumon, and is home to rich and diversified plant and animal life.
The Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier is also home to an isolated herd of nearly 75 woodland caribou, a cervid species considered vulnerable and found in very small numbers in the province of Quebec. I saw one on one of my many trips across the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, between Quebec City and Jonquière, where I lived for a number of years. Protection for the caribou's environment, part of which is located in the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, is essential to the species' survival.
The 775-km2 Portneuf wildlife reserve is located approximately 40 km north of Saint-Raymond, halfway between Quebec City and Trois-Rivières. It is another large nature preserve in my riding. Some of you may perhaps already be familiar with the region, which is well known to hunting and fishing enthusiasts who come to the service cooperative in Rivière-à-Pierre to stock up on provisions before heading off to take advantage of this wildlife reserve's magnificent hills and valleys, as well as its countless lakes and rivers.
Plans are already underway in my riding to create a protected area in the Portneuf wildlife reserve, and work to protect the ecosystems in this part of the area is ongoing. With such a wealth of natural resources in my own riding, it is difficult for me not to take an interest in other natural resources in Canada, including those of Sable Island, which is the subject of the bill before us today.
Unfortunately, I do not feel reassured when I look at the Conservatives’ track record on the environment, particularly when the bill would leave open the possibility of drilling underneath Sable Island. An environment as fragile as this already needs our protection, and preserving its ecosystem means that the number of people visiting it should be kept down. This bill, however, leaves open the possibility of drilling underneath the island. This, to me, is inconceivable, particularly given the Conservatives' track record.
In 2012 alone, the Conservatives eliminated important environmental protection measures, including 99% of federal environmental assessments and 98% of protective measures for Canada's navigable waterways. They eliminated the protection regime for most fish habitats. They also slashed $29 million from the Parks Canada budget and eliminated over 6,000 jobs, all of which clearly demonstrates that Canada's national parks are anything but a priority for this government.
The Conservatives are proposing the establishment of Canada's 43rd national park, but are not providing Parks Canada with everything it needs to fulfill its mandate to protect and preserve our natural heritage. That is what worries me.
I am therefore supporting the bill at second reading so that it can be referred to committee for the in-depth study that is necessary. I hope that what comes back to us in the House is a version that truly protects Sable Island, an outcome that is absolutely essential.